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Westfield Mayor Jardim Creates Committee to Study Preservation Program for Central Avenue

By Paul J. Peyton
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

Following a brief discussion on availability of state funding, Mayor Thomas C. Jardim formed a special steering committee last week to begin looking at the feasibility of applying for a Neighborhood Preservation Program for the Central Avenue corridor.

The program, established in 1975 through "The Maintenance of Viable Neighborhoods Act," was created to provide "financial assistance to municipalities for activities that promote the restoration and revitalization of threatened but viable neighborhoods," according to the guideline booklet on the program.

Grants for the program are administered by the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton.

Mayor Jardim said Monday that he expects the recommendation will be to move forward with the application by the end of the summer. According to an official of the state program, however, the earliest Westfield could be included would be next April. No new municipalities are being added at this time.

Terence Schrider, Acting Manager of The New Jersey Preservation Program, said funding over the past few years has dropped from $3 million to $2.75 million annually.

Currently, municipalities receive a minimum of $85,000 a year for the program which runs between three and five years. Mr. Schrider said for every dollar invested in the program, an additional funding of between $9 and $10 from either state, federal, municipal or private sources should be obtained by the community.

The money for the program is to be used primarily for rehabilitation of owner-occupied housing. No more than 20 percent may be used for administrative costs.

The recommendation to seek funding through the state program was made in a January, 1996 report by the advisory committee appointed by former Mayor Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr. which was looking into the establishment of a Special Improvement District (SID) for the central business district.

Rather than include Central Avenue in the SID, from South Avenue to Grove Street, the committee chose to recommend that the town apply for the neighborhood preservation program. The Westfield Area Chamber of Commerce and several residents were critical of the committee and the council for not including this area in the SID.

The Chamber had requested in June of last year that Central Avenue be included in the SID from South Avenue to Park Street. Central Avenue has been referred to as the "gateway to Westfield" since it is the main thoroughfare connecting the Garden State Parkway to the town via Clark.

Roselle and Plainfield completed the preservation program as of Monday. Mr. Schrider said there are currently 38 active communities in the program. Through the 22-year life of the program, approximately 110 programs have been administered.

Among the areas considered for inclusion in the program are the income of families in the target area and the status of the housing stock.

Among the committee’s charges will be to decide on boundaries for the neighborhood which will be included in the area.

"We have to check to see that we have all our ducks in a row so that we can move forward," Mayor Jardim stated.

"‘Blighted’ areas generally are not considered for the program," said Mr. Schrider, "since the goal of the program is to include target areas which can be successfully rehabilitated."

The application must include demographics of the target area, the condition of housing stock, identification of available resources (such as that for capital improvements), and what Mr. Schrider described as "political" letters of support for the program.

"We want to make sure the community wants this," he said.

Under the requirements of the state program, the town would be required to hire a full-time person to run the program. The town would be responsible for 80 percent of the costs related to the program coordinator. The town could dip into the grant funding to pay up to 20 percent of the cost for the salary of the program coordinator.

Town Administrator Edward A. Gottko explained that the program is a partnership between the town, the residents of the strategy area and the lenders (banks, etc.) in the area.

Local banks and lending houses would be asked to provide low interest loans for low and moderate income families, extend the terms of loans in order to lower the amount of payments, and reduce the minimum loan amount.

Residents would be responsible for participating in a steering group to "identify problems and solutions," Mr. Gottko explained. A comprehensive work program would be included to address those needs identified by the steering groups. Those needs may include deteriorating housing, crime, traffic, recreation, unemployment, schools, health etc.

Third Ward Councilman John J. Walsh, in describing parts of the area as "blighted," said the council should take a look at the program and, perhaps with the help of lending institutions, make the program feasible for the town.

"The purpose of the Neighborhood Preservation program is to look at a neighborhood and to get those people from the neighborhood directly involved in the process," Mr. Gottko explained.

Third Ward Councilman Neil F. Sullivan, Jr., said the committee, of which he was chosen to serve on, will have to decide if the preservation area should go all the way to South Avenue.

He said the committee will have to decide if the program should include the areas located off Central Avenue such as a portion of Grove Street and South Avenue.

"Even without this program, there needs to be some kind of program to address the problem areas of the town. It is clear what we need is a commitment to address these areas and a comprehensive plan," said Fourth Ward Councilman Donnell Carr.

In addition to Councilman Sullivan, other committee members will include Councilman Walsh, Second Ward Councilman Matthew P. Albano, Councilman Carr, Town Engineer Kenneth B. Marsh and Mr. Gottko.

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Walsh both represent the Third Ward which the Central Avenue corridor covers. Mr. Albano was named to the committee since he chairs the Town Building and Town Property Committee on the council.

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